BEYOND THE MEME:
BEYONCE'S "NO ANGEL" DIRECTOR @LILINTERNET
Interview by April Keller-Macleod
Photos by Richard Perkins
Off the heels of directing "No Angel" for Beyoncé, work continues to pour in for Lil Internet. Through a smiley faced gold grill, gifted to him by Houston's TV Johnny, the music producer and director talks about personal authenticity via social media and infinite bandwidth. Beyond the meme, beyond the hashtag, we learn about his personal fascinations, his thoughts on the world's political struggles, and the busy year he has ahead.
You're quite the busy man these days. What are you currently working on?
I have a lot of music videos coming up, just directed "No Angel" for Beyoncé. That was an unreal opportunity for me and it really came out of nowhere. 8 days running around Houston, just driving, watching, and shooting. Keeping our eyes open. Going places we shouldn't be. That was an incredible shoot, and obviously off of that video I have had more work coming in.... It's a very crazy time for me right now. I have two songs on Azealia Bank's album... I also eventually want to work on a documentary on these kids in New York who have an extremely harrowing private Facebook group. They’re a scary example of how alienating living life through the filter of the Internet and how that effects people’s mental states and well being. They’ve really adopted what the internet’s inherent code of expression is, and they’ve taken it to an extreme where they’re total exhibitionists about everything. They’ve intentionally eliminated any privacy and share the darkest parts of their life to an extreme. Also it’s how histrionic the internet is, this constant craving for attention, where you’d do anything for it and share all kinds of things that would previously be considered private or taboo – they put it all out there.
I think one of the biggest problems with young people growing upon the internet is that before this all, people’s world was the size of who they knew, where they lived and their first hand experiences, and at this point I feel like you’re able to catch a glimpse of the entire spectrum of humanity, everything from the worst taboos to the most unattainable luxuries and lifestyles. What that does to young people is that they are no longer just having aspirations based on their world or their real life – the world is their competition. Since everything is so accessible media wise, you can see anything on earth that exists, it’s become that the doors have been blown open and desires are set to things that are absolutely unattainable in the same way that people might wanna be the homecoming queen or something. Everyone wants to be a star. It’s the American dream taken to an extreme. It’s something I wanna explore and have been thinking about. Everything can be quantified now in likes and friends and followers, and people buy into that system. It starts to become an all-consuming motivation for them.
Do you think you have any of that motivation?
I know people might say it’s bullshit, but I never actively tried for that. I’ve always just done what I’ve done, and followers and attention has just come. I’ve never really done things intentionally to get more attention, I don’t spam myself.
Do you find that you’ve gotten more attention through social media?
I use it, and I really enjoy what I consider the good parts of it, which are meeting people and making new friends. But I think for a lot of people, it becomes their basis of self-worth, and that is really scary to me. The copy has now replaced the original, and people’s online life is more important than reality, and it takes president over their real life. For a lot of younger people, I think that’s really happened.
Everything online is so alienating. How do you find your own authenticity?
I’ve purposely never been authentic online, and I think the purpose of an avatar is the malleability of it. I like confusion, and I identify more with trickster archetypes. I like to change and confuse and shape shift, so my ethos online is never be authentic. I don’t consider it a projection of me. It really is an intentional perversion of myself, so I never consider it a representation of myself the way a lot of people identify with their online presence, that extension of themselves. To me, it’s like theater, and that’s a safe way for me to be, because it doesn’t interfere with my reality. It’s just a game.
You stay well informed with world politics; can you talk a little bit about your political stance?
It’s always changing and really complicated. I mean it’s all really simple when you break it down…the thing that starts to bother me is there doesn’t seem to be any solution to what is going on. I don’t like objectivism, but it seems like the only solution is some escape. My idols have always been the pirates, people who slip between the cracks and set up their own paradise outside of everything else. I have lots of ideas of things I could do, but we’re so monitored that I don’t want to ruin my life trying to fight for something that I think is futile in the first place. I’m more into the Hakim Bey Temporary Autonomous Zones, where I can be free now. The bankers scammed the entire planet, the two party system is bullshit, and I’m not against being rich, but ultimately, it seems that truly it’s a disease to think that anyone’s wants, especially as superfluous as they can be amongst the wealthy, should take precedent over someone’s basic needs. Somehow everyone has been scammed into thinking that makes sense. How can you change something that engrained and brainwashed into society? I don’t understand how people can sympathise with a system that’s inherently working against them. When you break things down in world politics, everything is so obviously fucked up and crooked, and I don’t know why it is that everything happens, but I’m sure the ultimate reason is selfishness. At this point, I’m just hoping that I can find a way to spend my life around like-minded people outside of the grasp of the beast, the machine.
There’s a lot of alienation and change on the Internet – people use it to get inspiration, and often, it isn’t authentic. It is possible to be a real individual with this dynamic of assimilation?
I don’t like the speed of it. I think the speed of it is damaging – how fast it moves is not a good thing. Ultimately, what I’ve decided is that the Internet has obviously fucked culture up in a big way. I’m old enough to have seen it both ways. I was a teenager in the late nineties, so I got to experience subculture before the Internet was the main medium of it, and my problem is with the bandwidth not the connection itself. The connections that are possible is a positive thing, but the bandwidth is what fucks shit up. Media is so disposable; there is no barrier for entry for anything right now. You could literally go and change your subcultural associations overnight, if you wanted to. Some people get their identity through their cultural tribe, but before, there was a barrier of entry, and it felt a lot more special than it is now. It’s great that there are so many sources and tons of inspiration to get, but there’s so much out there that we’re reaching some sort of weird critical mess where everything is devalued culturally. As soon as something is made, it can be copied so rapidly. A song would be created, and everyone else duplicated that sound, and that’s how a genre was created, but now it happens so fast that you have someone really genuine and creative starting a thing, and then it gets copied and duplicated by people who aren’t even genuine. They might be even better than the original, but they’re just wack and posturing. Before, maybe you had to really be an outcast to be part of a thing. It’s what happened with EDM – electronic music used to be an outsider underground thing, and now it’s the staple music for bros. It’s no longer an outsider culture; it’s assimilated into the mainstream.
I think we’re scaling up in terms of disposability where now, an entire subculture can be created and churned and disposed of in fucking six months, and that’s really crazy to me. That’s why, probably to a fault, I never become part of a group, cause I know that it has a lifespan. There’s nothing I want to claim to be a part of and claim it as part of my identity, because it will be dead so quickly. I remember, as a teenager, I was a raver and lived in the suburbs. I’d go to the mall and see another raver and be like, “Oh woah, who is this person? Wow, I wish I could be friends with them,” and you’d seek out other people in your group, and it was exciting. When you were together with this group of people, who were part of this subculture, it was special, and now it’s not like that at all. I think that part is sad. When you go rogue, it’s kind of a bummer, but you find people you connect to anyways…
What do you want from your work now?
I want to travel and be a pirate; that’s what makes me the happiest – new environments, meeting new people. Nothing beats the thrill of novelty in real life. I think people forget that, and they take the simulation version over the reality. I think I’ve done something that’s not supposed to be possible – I’ve gotten some success doing both music and video. I’ve always been scared of being a jack of all trades and master of none, and it took me a long time but finally, I can honestly say, I’ve gotten to a professional level in both, and I just want to find a way to make a living doing the things I love. I also want to be flexible in being able to travel the world and see life from different perspectives.
Ultimately, that is not so much about my technical ability so much as the way I see things. It comes from the fact that I think about the big picture. I always think very wide, very far out. There’s a lot of people whose circles are very immediate, even in terms of their thoughts, but I’m always thinking chunked out by 10 degrees. I think that’s where a lot of it comes from, and it’s an important way to be, always one circle out. It’s called chunking; you have one set of data from this angle, or you can chunk out where you’re starting to see data in different sections, start to see patterns and can go further from that. It’s important to zoom out as far as possible and try to see the patterns operating on small and big levels – seeing the patterns in all those different strata is how you’re going to learn and get the most inspiration. That’s one skill I think I have that used to be considered a mental disorder; being able to see the patterns in random sets of data. Nowadays there’s so much noise that it starts to appear as random, but it’s not and you can always see patterns.